Why I like(d) RQ more than D&D

When I talk about D&D I mean B/X D&D and/or AD&D 1st edition (PHB and DMG and MM). I did see the White Box once but it was on a shelf as an archived thing even in 1979.

I disliked the core D&D rules system. Not for being ‘serious’ but being outrageouslt flawed as a combat simulation, and BRP being closer to how I imagined combat. The more time I spend with people who do combat recreation with metal swords, the more I realised that combat is just a touch too complex for any rpg to simulate wholly, but that BRP is closer than D&D.

I disliked the core D&D rules system also for it’s class/level approach which meant that the world was oddly solipsist, it always mirrored the class/level structure of the players. So 1-3 level PCs had 1-3 level adventures, and when they got to 4-6, the world jacked up to 4-6 around them and so on.

I disliked the very wide power range of AD&D onwards. The difference between levels seemed to become broader and broader, and the sheer power imbalance between a 1st level wizard and a 10th or 20th level character made the world seem increasingly imbalanced.

I wanted skills. D&D didn’t have them until 3e.

I disliked the haphazard nature of rules in D&D, the fact that the game appeared to grow rather than be designed, the fact that some rules followed percentiles and some a d6, that it wasn’t possible to master the system by learning one or two core mechanisms. The unique nature of each class and between races and between PCs and NPCs and monsters irritated me.

D&D was very preachy. Well let’s be clear, Gary Gygax was very preachy and prescriptive, which given the ‘not exactly perfect’ nature of the game bugged me.

I liked a magic system that allowed player choice in how to use resources to power spells, and D&D had a Vancian spell system that exacerbated the problems of low level characters and limited magic.

I didn’t conceptually like the difference between player races and monsters. It appealed to me far more to be able to play any sentient creature as a PC, and with the same rules as any other creature. This came very much from playing T&T, but also my egalitarian and inclusive social views. Monsters are people too!

I liked unified resolution systems and BRP had one (actually two if you use the resistance table), it appeals to my love of simple system design and analysis in real life, which I also accept is a reductionist tendency that makes me paper over minor variations and/or cross influences.

I wanted to play in a society based game that had a culture and the players existed and interacted with it to gain benefit and make their name, whereas default D&D seemed to be about groups of mercenaries looting tombs in an analogue of the Wild West. I accept that this wasn’t the only way to play D&D, but RQ offered a culture led game out of the book, so it worked for me.

The fact that in BRP it is just possible for a David to bring down a Goliath appealed to my view of the inherent danger of combat, and also my delight in the ‘little guy’ bringing down the behemoth with all the advantages.

I had no problem with playing ducks, trolls, scorpion-men, minotaurs, wind children, etc. any more than playing halflings, tieflings or ewoks.

As I grew up and tried other games that also took similar and different game designs, as ideas such as binary advantages and disadvantages (feats) and a lighter and lighter approach came to rulesets, and simulation was increasingly not seem as a benefit I came to 3e D&D, which had skills and a more unified approach (in the core books, I ignore the panoply of add ons) I ran it for 3 years every other week.

Much of my issues still exist, the class/level world, the very wide power level range, the likelihood that as a group of 1st level characters you couldn’t take down a 10th level fighter. On the other hand, it had skills that worked, I quite liked feats, and we had a lot of fun playing it.

At the same time I was well aware of the issues around BRP, it’s inherent fragility for characters was upsetting for many players, the full hit location based combat sequences were taking too long for a modern game, and the magic system with regard to POW driven divine spells was looking stingy compared to MP driven spirit/battle magic. There were too many skills and the ‘tick hunting’ was a problem for many refs, although not myself.

Most of these were fixed in OpenQuest and RQII and RQ6, but I also had a look at the OSR retro clone games. They were either exact copies of games I hadn’t liked decades before, or they were “homages” like Castles & Crusades. I politely walked away.

Did I use to hate D&D? Yes. In my youth it seemed to really annoy me and I disliked it a lot. When I saw good settings shoe horned into the d20 system it annoyed me.

Do I hate it now? Not in the way I used to. I can relax and take it as something people enjoy a lot. I could play and run core Pathfinder and have a good time. I’d give 4e another go, it seemed a fun skirmish game. I’d try Tru20 if anyone wanted to play it or run it.

But I’d always play systems that IMHO are better designed games.

So was RQ a refuge? No, it was one of the game systems (along with T&T and Traveller and HERO and others) that offered differently designed games that appealed better to my personal likes and dislikes about roleplaying, society and system design. Was it my favourite? Probably, and yet that’s because of the tight link between society and game, culture and PCs, and in reality that’s achievable with many game systems, but more difficult with the power ramp of D&D.

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